Musician and actor Queen Latifah is in her second year of leading the Queen Collective, a talent development initiative that seeks out and supports filmmakers who are women of color. This year, after reviewing dozens of film submissions, Latifah and her team handpicked the work of three aspiring filmmakers — all women of color — to champion. Documentaries “Tangled Roots” by Sam Knowles and “Gloves Off” by Nadine Natour and Ugonna Okpalaoka will now receive support from Latifah and other industry professionals to help bolster their success.
Latifah is partnered with Procter & Gamble and Tribeca Studios through the Queen Collective. Variety reports the group received about 60 film submissions in its first year, and that this year, that number doubled. The winners receive support in the form of mentorship, funding, distribution, education and media opportunities and get to premiere their films at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.
The Queen Collective held its kickoff event in late January at Tribeca Studios in lower Manhattan. Knowles’ documentary “Tangled Roots” will center on hair discrimination in America — an issue at the forefront of national racial conversations lately. Lawmakers and companies are advocating for adding protections against hair discrimination to civil rights law and company policies. In 2019, New York and California became the first states to outlaw discrimination based on hair. Other municipal governments, counties, states and private companies are following suit.
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Natour and Okpalaoka’s documentary “Gloves Off” follows Tiara Brown, a Washington, D.C. police officer by day and boxer by night. It will focus on police brutality against the Black community and tackle the issue of being a woman in the male-dominated profession of law enforcement.
The idea for the Queen Collective came from a panel Latifah and the chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble, Marc Pritchard sat on at the 2017 Women in the World Summit in New York City. The panel discussed issues of the objectification and exclusion of women in media both under the spotlight and behind the scenes. Pritchard and Latifah, along with Latifah’s production partner Shakim Compere, created the collective shortly thereafter to combat these issues, according to Variety. Tribeca Studios also got on board, with Procter & Gamble providing the financial support.
The Queen Collective connects filmmakers with industry professionals for mentoring, networking and education, including Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, who is Black. Williams spoke at this year’s kickoff event in Tribeca.
Documentaries “Ballet After Dark,” by B. Monet and “If There is Light,” by Haley Elizabeth Anderson were the winners of last year’s Queen Collective initiative. “Ballet After Dark” tells the story of a young woman who begins a dance therapy group for survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. “If There is Light” follows a 14-year-old girl navigating a new life in New York City as her mother works to move her family out of the shelter system and into a stable home. Both films premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, traveled on the festival circuit and were released on Hulu.
The 2016 #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that called out the Academy for its disproportionate support of white and male directors sparked a conversation proving not all filmmakers look like Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg and and showing the need for more inclusivity in the industry. This year, the gender differences in Oscar nominations are also bleak. “Little Women” is the only film out of nine nominated for Best Picture that is about — and made by — women. Now, according to a 2019 study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reports there was a 5% increase in women-directed films since 2018. But there is still a gaping gender divide in the film industry. Twelve female directors worked across 2019’s 100 top grossing films, but only four were women of color, according to the study. Just over 5% of Best Director nominees across award types between 2008–2020 were women.
At the kickoff event, Latifah touted the value of diversity in art and questioned why it is so often met with resistance.
“People should not be denied their opportunity to reach their maximum potential,” Variety reports Latifah said. “I don’t know what everybody’s so afraid of. To be honest with you, it would only enhance our business and entertainment. It enhances all of our worlds to see interesting stories and to see things as they really could be. The status quo is boring.”
Though the industry as a whole struggles with recognizing diverse women in the director’s chair, certain media companies are taking steps to ensure people of different genders, sexualities, abilities and racial and ethnic backgrounds are given a seat at the table.
Comcast NBCUniversal, a mass media conglomerate that ranked No. 6 on DiversityInc’s 2019 Top Companies for Diversity list, has an internal diversity council that works with executives from all business areas to maintain diversity practices throughout the company. It also works to support people with disabilities and LGBTQ people through employee resource groups and mentoring opportunities. Another media conglomerate, the Walt Disney Company, ranked No. 20 on the list. Women make up 44% of Disney’s managers. The company also supports cross-cultural mentoring, talent visibility, LGBTQ pride and unconscious bias training.
In all fields, the business benefits of diversity are apparent. Aside from its positive impact on employees and different communities, diversity and inclusion are linked to better productivity, creativity and problem-solving. These skills yield positive financial results. A 2019 study found investors are more likely to predict the stock prices of tech and finance companies with gender diversity will rise.
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Across all industries, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 15% and those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 35%, according to McKinsey.
In a world where media shapes people’s perceptions, diversity in film is crucial. If the adage “life imitates art and art imitates life” reigns true, the Queen Collective is a step toward engaging in discussions about diversity and inclusion in film and beyond.